In the service in the Cathedral on Thursday we celebrated the feast of St Thomas the Apostle. He is someone it’s easy to relate to with his need for proof of the wonderful news that Jesus had risen from the dead. Often, like Thomas, we find it hard to hope that good things will happen, even if we really long for them. The Christian faith is characterised by hope which is not wishful thinking but a dependence on God who can be relied upon to keep his promises. Christian hope doesn’t depend on circumstances but on the certainty that we have ‘the hope of glory in our lives’.
The readings were Psalm 27, Isaiah 35, Hebrews 10:35-11:1.
Today in the western hemisphere Evening Prayer can be celebrated as the first Evening Prayer of Thomas the Apostle. For those in the east, it is already St Thomas’ Day. It seemed like a good idea to celebrate his day together at this service.
Thomas is a very human saint, someone most of us can relate to I’m sure. He wasn’t sure about the fact, told to him by his fellow disciples, that incredibly wonderful fact, that Jesus had risen from the dead. After the way his hopes had been dashed by Jesus’ death, it’s easy to understand why. He needed proof in order to be convinced of what had happened. Jesus didn’t disappoint Thomas; he came to him and allowed him to have the proof he needed in order to believe what had seemed unbelievable.
I’m sure all of us have found ourselves in the position of wanting something very, very much and yet not daring to hope it could happen. For seven years now I have been working my way through the long discernment process of the Church of England to see if I can train to be a priest. There have been disappointments along the way and sometimes all doors seemed shut. At one point I got so fed up with the whole thing, as obstacles seemed to always get thrown in my way, that I decided I would abandon the quest. Within 4 days someone who didn’t know me came up to me after I had given a talk and said that as soon as I began to speak she knew I should be ordained. It was such an amazing thing to happen.
As a result, here I am still following the process. Part of the process involved having three interviews in the diocese. It was impossible to know how I had done and I remember not daring to believe that those three people would say yes to my going further. I didn’t dare to hope. I remember sitting in the office of the Diocesan Director of Ordinands waiting for him to tell me the outcome. It was excruciating having to wait but finally he told me that we would go ahead. It was almost unbelievable. I had been trying so hard not to hope for this outcome that it was hard to take in. It’s the same now as I wait to go to the three day selection conference that will finally decide whether I can train or not. I long to hope it will be a ‘yes’ but I daren’t hope. One thing I know, though, is that whatever the outcome it will be God’s will and he will bring good of it.
In the Christian life, faith and hope go together. In fact faith and hope go together for anyone who believes in God. Listen to the Psalmist speaking long before Jesus was born. Faced with enemies and troubles, he declares that God will hide and protect him. Instead of believing the evidence of his eyes, he believes the evidence of his heart, which tells him that he need be afraid of no one because God is the strength of his life. Even were his parents to abandon him, he trusts the Lord implicitly. Instead of bemoaning his misfortune, he makes worship of God his priority. He wants to live the way God wants him to live.
With no evidence to support his hope he states: I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the Lord.
When Isaiah was called by God to be a prophet in 740 B.C. he began a ministry which lasted 40 years. During that time two of the kings who reigned, Ahaz and Manasseh, led the people away from God and into idolatry and child sacrifice. Hezekiah was a much more God-fearing king. He was famed for his piety and returned the people to the worship of Yahweh, purifying and renovating the Temple. Some of the time Isaiah could be glad about how things were going and sometimes he couldn’t. But his faith in God was constant.
In the midst of the changing circumstances around him he encouraged the people not to fear but to look to God. 770 years before Jesus stood in the synagogue and read his words, Isaiah was looking with faith and hope to a time when the blind would see, the deaf would hear, the dumb would speak and the lame would leap with the agility of the deer. He looked forward to God’s people gathering in Zion, full of joy, with all sorrow defeated. He was never to see it happen but it didn’t stop him believing it and teaching others to do the same.
Hope in the biblical sense is not the same as that in our everyday usage. It’s not wishful thinking, something that may or may not happen. Hope in the Bible looks to God to fulfil his promises, knowing that he can be relied upon to do so. So the Psalmist knows that God will be there for him no matter what. Circumstances say not, but hope says yes. Isaiah knows God will send the Messiah. He lived in a time when having a king who actually worshipped the true God was pretty much a miracle, but he held on to the hope that God would fulfil his promise to redeem mankind. We know that God did just as Isaiah knew he would. There is still more that Isaiah said that has not yet been fulfilled, but we can depend on God to do as he says.
In the letter to the Hebrews we are encouraged to hold on to confidence, which is another way to say ‘Keep on hoping’. If we continue to have faith, continue like the Psalmist to make doing God’s will our priority, God will fulfil his promises. We are told that ‘faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’
Our God is a God of hope and fills us with joy and peace, despite our circumstances. He sent his Son Jesus to die for us and to conquer death by rising again from the dead. We can know that we will share Jesus’ glory in eternity. This is not some kind of wishful thinking, this is a promise of God which will be kept.
We are called not just to hope for ourselves but to hope for others. We long for others to come to know God, to receive all the wonderful things that God wishes to give to them. We hope that they too will have hope that takes them through the tough times; that they will have the peace that passes all understanding; that they will know joy that is independent of circumstances. The faith and hope we have as Christians is not selfish but full of love for others, or it should be if it is genuine.
Let’s pray Paul’s prayer for ourselves and for those who do not yet have the wonderful hope that can be theirs:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor